Seeing Jesus in a Selfie World

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4.6).

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We could define generations by the new terms and catchphrases they (bit)coin. We could almost trace history solely using Oxford’s additions to its dictionary. The War. The Crash. The Bomb. The Pill.

Watergate. Nannygate. Lewinskygate.  Free love. Tough love. Self love. Dr. Spock. Doc Marten’s. Dr. Phil. Jim Crow. Jim Morrison. Jim Jones.  Boomers, Xers, Millenials. Defriend. Unfriend. Refriend. PED. HGH. LOLOLOLOL. Twerking.  Tweeting.  Tweaker. Bigly (or is it Big League?).

For better or worse we now live in the age of the “selfie” and we’re never going back.

Thanks to a ubiquitous social media we can instantly show the world what we’re doing, wearing (or not), eating or any combination thereof. Of course, we assume the world really should want to see us in our natural (or not so natural) habitat.

Let’s face it (pun intended). We all want to be relevant to someone. We all hope someone “likes” us. We’re now able to put ourselves in view, forcing the world to at least look at us. We hope they are impressed enough to share and retweet. If even for a Snapchat moment we can feel like a celebrity.

The selfie, at its root, is nothing new. Only now we have the means of broadcasting what has long been a fundamental human desire: to be loved and paid attention to. The selfie is simply the digital version of what we desire anywhere else in public. But it’s a sad reflection on our ability to love and be loved. Our love has become so cheap that what used to require a kiss, hug, smile, hand-holding walks or visit can be had for a mere click of an icon. Digital love has become an addictive opiate requiring increasingly more online interaction to satisfy a deep need. We are so deprived of godly love that we’ll take it anywhere we can get it these days even if it’s only being “liked.” We work hard to stay at the top of everyone’s screen to avoid irrelevance.

We must be loved.

The selfie is also nothing new in another respect. Like all good things God makes and gives he made us to be windows to look through, not portraits to look at. God hard-wired desires to love and be loved in his image-bearers so they will admire him in one another. He made us to be loved for God’s sake. But with the selfie comes its own temptation to idolatry. Whatever anyone thinks of God, we just hope they like our new look, style or pucker.

While I love an interesting selfie as much as the next guy we must be very careful of its place in the Christian life. In the church, there are no “selfies.” There are only Christ-reflectors. God did not make you to be looked at, but looked through.

“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col 3.3-4).

Like Christ who saved us, we gladly choose to stay hidden behind him in a world addicted to celebrity. We are glad to be quite ordinary if it means people see an extraordinary Jesus.

Doesn’t it strike you that to this day we have no physical description of Jesus? We know he had a beard but so did every other Jewish man. Beyond that we only know Jesus had “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon him” (Is 53.2). Jesus’ own cousin couldn’t pick him out of crowd (Jn 1.31) so I doubt we’d fare much better. We should be careful of depicting Jesus too much, especially as a centerfold. Jesus will be believed because of his word (Jn 4.39, 50), not because of his headshots.

In other words, Jesus did not care if the world knew what he looked like because he didn’t come to save through “selfie.” He took “the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men” (Phil 2.7). Jesus became Everyman. Anyman. He came as the Second Adam, the True Human, who reflected the God who made us. He lived such that whatever people saw in him they saw the Father who sent him (Jn 14.9). Jesus was God’s selfie.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col 3.12-13).

Paul’s imperative “put on” (endusasthe) can easily be translated “clothe yourself.” Do we want people to see what we’re wearing today? Let them see compassion, kindness and humility. Let them see the glory of God in the face of Christ. What is worth seeing can only be seen with eyes of the heart, faith in the Unseen Christ (1 Pt 1.8). And that sort of sight comes by hearing (Rom 10.17).

How can we digitally represent compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness? We can’t. There are no shortcuts to God’s love. Grace is never pixelated. It has hands, feet, mouths and ears. Displaying Christ and the power of his gospel requires a flesh-and-blood community that passes peace and shares bread and wine. Jesus created a community where lepers are touched, holy kisses are shared, the gospel is tasted. Resurrected sinners use real towels to dry off real water. There is no such thing as a digital church because there is no such thing as a digital God and therefore no such thing as digital love.

Do I care more that 600 “friends” see what I look like in a mirror, or if my co-worker sees what Christ looks like at lunch? Do I care that the world think me popular, pouty and perfect or that my neighbor sees Christ crucified and risen for sinners like us? Do I seriously care about love, Christ’s love, and losing my life so I can save it?

I do not suggest the random selfie is categorically sinful and satanic. I do suggest being very careful about it because sin crouches and Satan prowls. What may seem like a harmless little picture might actually be another Asherah in my heart and home. And the consequences of that are never digital or likable or make anyone ROTFLMBO.

Take comfort you have a God who pays attention to you. He named every star and knows every hair on your head. He friends and follows you for his name’s sake. The world doesn’t need another one of your selfies. It needs another display of your Savior. Log off and love.

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.
(Frances Havergal, 1874)

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